New Bill Advocates for Incarcerated People with Disabilities
Friday, September 15, 2023
A new bill in Congress would ensure assistance and resources for people with disabilities who are in jail or prison. It could have a major effect in Mississippi, with one of the world's highest incarceration rates.
The advocacy group Disability Rights Mississippi is already pursuing a lawsuit against the state's corrections department, citing concerns ranging from accessibility to insufficient medical and mental health care.
Polly Tribble, executive director of the group, said Congress could help ensure people with disabilities do not experience health setbacks during their time behind bars.
"It will just allow us to expand our work," Tribble pointed out. "We want to make sure that the people who are in the jails get the services they need, so that they once they get out, they don't go back to prison, and that they can be a productive member of society."
The group's most recent report on living conditions in Mississippi prisons said those who use a wheelchair often are unable to access critical areas, from cafeterias to showers, to nurses' stations to receive medication. The bill promotes training and advocacy for safe and humane conditions for people in jails and prisons.
Tribble explained the prisoners often face challenges getting their medical needs addressed.
"When somebody with a disability -- and let's say, for instance, a mental health issue -- that when they go into the prison or county jail system, that their prognosis is poor, and that they do not get the treatment and assistance they need," Tribble outlined.
Jane Walton, the group's communications director, added passage of the Protection and Advocacy for Criminal Legal Services Act could enhance her group's ability to advocate for the rights of this jail and prison population.
"In Mississippi, just because of a lack of resources, I think we see jails and prisons almost being used as a proxy for mental health care," Walton asserted. "Some people who wind up in a jail or prison probably should have wound up getting treatment. So, it's unfortunate. If they wind up in the system, the odds of them getting the treatment that they need drop."
The bill would allocate $7 million for fiscal year 2024, and with incremental increases to meet these needs through 2028.
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